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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/Desire and Possession

DESIRE AND POSSESSION. 1727.


'TIS strange, what different thoughts inspire
In men, Possession, and Desire!
Think what they wish so great a blessing;
So disappointed when possessing!
A moralist profoundly sage
(I know not in what book or page,
Or whether o'er a pot of ale)
Related thus the following tale.
Possession, and Desire his brother,
But still at variance with each other,
Were seen contending in a race;
And kept at first an equal pace:
'Tis said, their course continued long;
For this was active, that was strong:
Till Envy, Slander, Sloth, and Doubt,
Misled them many a league about.
Seduc'd by some deceiving light,
They take the wrong way for the right;
Through slippery by-roads dark and deep,
They often climb, and often creep.
Desire, the swifter of the two,
Along the plain like lightning flew:
'Till, entering on a broad highway,
Where power and titles scatter’d lay,
He strove to pick up all he found,
And by excursions lost his ground:
No sooner got, than with disdain
He threw them on the ground again;
And hasted forward to pursue
Fresh objects fairer to his view;
In hope to spring some nobler game;
But all he took was just the same:
Too scornful now to stop his pace,
He spurn'd them in his rival's face.
Possession kept the beaten road,
And gather’d all his brother strow'd;
But overcharg’d, and out of wind,
Though strong in limbs, he lagg'd behind.
Desire had now the goal in sight:
It was a tower of monstrous height;
Where on the summit Fortune stands,
A crown and sceptre in her hands;
Beneath a chasm as deep as Hell,
Where many a bold adventurer fell.
Desire in rapture gaz'd a while,
And saw the treacherous goddess smile;
But, as he climb'd to grasp the crown,
She knock'd him with the sceptre down!
He tumbled in the gulf profound;
There doom'd to whirl an endless round.
Possession's load was grown so great,
He sunk beneath the cumbrous weight:
And, as he now expiring lay,
Flocks every ominous bird of prey;
The raven, vulture, owl, and kite,
At once upon his carcase light,
And strip his hide, and pick his bones,
Regardless of his dying groans.